Episode 23: Tacitus and Germanic Society

We explore the Germanic languages during the 1st century AD. The society of the early Germans is examined in the context of ‘Germania’ by the Roman historian Tacitus.  Modern English words originating during this period are also discussed.


10 thoughts on “Episode 23: Tacitus and Germanic Society

  1. I love your podcast and thanks for your research and easy-to-follow presentation.

    You mention in this episode that “wine” was an early borrowing into early Germanic languages from Latin. But I see that the PIE word was *woin-o- and the w- beginning is found in other PIE languages like Arabic (wain). How do we know that the w- beginning in Germanic languages isn’t just from the original PIE and not a borrowed word?

    • Hi Nick,

      I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer for you. There seems to be universal agreement among scholars that “wine” originated from a Latin root. This conclusion may be based in part on a comparison of the Latin form of the word with the reconstructed form in early Germanic. I think the early Germanic version is essentially identical to the Latin form of the word which was in use at the time. Also, the Latin root word spread far and wide into other languages throughout Europe and northern Africa as the wine trade spread. So the Germanic tribes were just some of the people who borrowed this Latin word. Finally, I think it is important to note that “wine” referred to an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes. There is no evidence that the Germanic tribes had such a drink until the Romans arrived. (They had ale and mead, but not wine.) Since apparently they didn’t have wine, it is doubtful that they had a native word for wine. It is more likely that they borrowed the word when they borrowed the drink itself. Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts, but I don’t have an etymological source that discusses this issue in any detail.

  2. I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s not a consensus over whether wine has a PIE root. Assuming it does, I’ve learned from this podcast that the sound laws tell us how words made their way to English. So (correct me if I’m wrong but) head would’ve come directly from PIE to Germanic to English, where cap and chief would’ve come via Latin and French (respectively, I think, I’m new to this). But I’ve been researching and I can’t figure when the “w” became fricative in German. Also I wonder why in English we have wine, but vine and vineyard. I have a feeling this was mentioned in podcast… I need to hurry up and catch up so I can listen to it again!

    • I know that the change from w to v was one of the sound shifts that distinguished High German (which became the modern German language) and Low German (which became English, Dutch Plattdeutsch etc). I believe the process began in about the 5th century AD, but I’m not sure how long it took to complete or precisely when to w-to-v change occurred.

      • I discussed the Second or High German Sound Shift in Episode 31. It has been a while since I prepared that episode, but I think the shift from the ‘w’ sound to the ‘v’ sound was a later development within German after the High German Sound Shift. I am not sure of the exact time frame.

  3. Mr Stroud:

    This is not for publication, if you don’t want it.

    Your pronunciation of the word “dissecting” is di-secting. Would dis-secting be more proper? I don’t mean to dis you. As a physician, I have dis-sected many things.

    BTW, I love this podcast.

    • As far as I can tell, “dissect” is pronounced without an ‘s’ on the first syllable. I checked Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary, and their pronunciation guides say no ‘s’ on the first syllable. Of course, the ‘i’ can be pronounced either long or short depending on the accent.

    • Scots “ken” is typically used in the sense of ‘know’ or ‘knowledge.’ It is actually derived from the same English root as the word “know.” The connection makes more sense when you consider that the ‘k’ in “know” was originally pronounced.

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